Last year I asked my friend Yukiko Ayres to produce some calligraphy for a new tenugui for my Thursday dojo, we decided to use the characters ki shu bu shin, which allude to the fact that training should be fierce and rigorous but that the intention behind it is benign. “Devil hands, Buddha Heart” is a very loose translation. The reason for adopting this motto is my belief that keiko should be stretching and strenuous and that motodachi’s role is to help shidachi reach up to the next level.
As a young kendoka in Japan my keiko with most of the senior teachers usually consisted of ippon shobu, which I never ever won, immediately followed by kakarigeiko of varying length and intensity. Each sensei seemed to have his own formula for correcting some of my many weaknesses. In most cases the plan was to take me to a level of exhaustion where I was no longer able to remain tense or to use shoulder strength to raise the shinai. Going through this process in Japanese summer humidity usually left me in a soggy heap. The fact that there is usually a fifteen minute queuing time between hanshi is probably the reason I survived to tell the tale.
I have experienced the joy of throwing up in my men, having my shinai knocked repeatedly out of my hand at the point of striking, been bounced off the wall and on a few occasions fallen victim to deashibarai. This was at a time when the current appetite for “health and safety” appeared far less intrusive than it does today, instead many kendo teachers teachers followed Nietzsche’s view that ” what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
Whether I was suffering from Stockholm syndrome, or acting like one of the victims of Monty Python’s fictitious gangsters, Doug and Dinsdale Piranha, who showed mercy by nailing hands to coffee tables instead of heads to the floor, I am not sure, but I certainly came away from these sessions with a feeling of gratitude rather than resentment.
Now when I get the occasional chance to train with my betters, I am still expected to stretch myself despite my advanced state of decrepitude. More of my time however is spent receiving kakarigeiko where the main challenge is to decide how intensive kakarigeiko should be for each individual.
The kenshi that I train with are of varied ages and physical fitness levels. They come to kendo through their own free will and have not signed up to be punished in boot camp, so training needs to be enjoyable as well as effective. I try to tailor each motodachi keiko session to a length and intensity to fit each student. A young national team member will have a longer faster session with more resistance than a middle aged student and for an older member two or three good uchikomi attacks are probably sufficient.
Still from time to time I look at the kanji on our tenugui and think affectionately about some of the sensei, sadly no longer with us, who had mastered the art of sending you home with just enough resentment to make you determined to come back and do better tomorrow.